Running through the highs and lows from Saturday afternoon’s action:
LOSER: Clemson. The list of unbeatens was trimmed as Pittsburgh dealt Clemson a 43-42 loss on Chris Blewitt’s 48-yard field goal with six seconds remaining.
Clemson had flirted with trouble both against high-end opponents (Louisville and Florida State) and mediocrities (N.C. State) throughout the season, so perhaps it’s not a titanic shock it would find itself in a tight game with the Panthers. Still, the Tigers (9-1, 6-1 ACC) had a chance to close things out and couldn’t get it done.
Pittsburgh denied the Tigers on both third and one and fourth and one from the Panthers’ 35-yard line, setting up a short drive to move into field goal range and claim the biggest victory in Coach Pat Narduzzi’s two-year tenure.
The other stunning element is that Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson’s monster statistical game wasn’t enough for the Tigers. The junior was 52 for 70 for 580 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, and wideouts Mike Williams (15 catches, 202 yards, one TD) and Artavis Scott (13 receptions, 125 yards, one TD) were fed with regularity.
This doesn’t end Clemson’s playoff hopes — far from it, since the pool of one-loss teams in power conferences isn’t particularly large. But for the first time in the playoff’s three-year history, there won’t be an undefeated ACC team for the committee to plug easily into the four-team field.
The Tigers own the advantage of a victory over Louisville and can still get to 12-1 with victories over Wake Forest, South Carolina and the ACC Coastal Division champ. But Clemson must deal with an element of uncertainty over the next three weeks as it copes with its first loss to an unranked team since 2011.
WINNER: Georgia. The Bulldogs have proved to be almost entirely incapable of winning style points in Coach Kirby Smart’s first season. Nonetheless, they still won a spotlight game and dashed whatever limited playoff hopes Auburn clung to with a 13-7 victory in this year’s installment of the Deep South’s oldest rivalry.
Jacob Eason was workmanlike (20 for 31, 208 yards). Nick Chubb nosed over 10 0 yards on 23 carries. But the Georgia defense did much of the work, almost entirely erasing Auburn’s passing game while forcing the Tigers (7-3, 5-2 SEC) to earn each of their 127 rushing yards.
Georgia (6-4, 4-4) avoided a sub-. 500 finish in the SEC, and a finish against Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia Tech and a bowl opponent means the Bulldogs have hope of getting home at 9-4. That’s not the standard the folks in Athens have in mind, but it’s probably only a victory away from Georgia’s ceiling this year, some unrealistic preseason hype notwithstanding.
WINNER: Alabama. The Crimson Tide clobbered Mississippi State, 51-3, as Jalen Hurts threw four touchdown passes and rushed for another. The three games that stand between Alabama (10-0, 7-0 SEC) and a playoff berth? Chattanooga, Auburn and the SEC East champion.
That last part is a given in the path now, too. Auburn’s loss handed the SEC West to the Crimson Tide even before the Nov. 26 Iron Bowl.
LOSER: Oregon. One of the burning questions in the Pac-12 — is Oregon’s defense so bad it could get torched by Stanford’s opposite-of-explosive offense? — achieved resolution this afternoon.
Yes, the Ducks really are that terrible.
Stanford rolled up 540 total yards in a 52-27 thrashing of Oregon in Eugene. And with that, the Ducks’ 11-year postseason streak is over.
WINNER: Navy. The team in full control of the American’s West Division is located in Annapolis. Ignoring that bit of unusual geography, there’s little that any of the division’s top teams — Houston, Memphis and now Tulsa — can do after falling to Navy. Ken Niumatalolo’s team needs only a split the next two weeks against East Carolina and Southern Methodist to lock up a place in the league title game.
The Midshipmen (7-2, 5-1) couldn’t have asked for much more out of this season. Sure, they lost at Air Force and won’t get to the White House as holders of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. But they’ve also overcome the loss of their starting quarterback, beat Notre Dame, knocked off a top-10 opponent at home and now are closing in on a division title in only their second year in their league. It’s an impressive season.
LOSER: Baylor. The Bears (6-3, 3-3 Big 12) were blasted, 45-24, at Oklahoma, continuing their slide right out of the spotlight over the past three weeks. The program’s next relevant moment — for on-the-field reasons, anyway — will be when it hires a new head coach.
But making matters worse, quarterback Seth Russell suffered a dislocated left ankle and is done for the year. It’s the second consecutive year he’s suffered a season-ending injury, and it leaves Baylor with a decent chance of finishing under .500 in a weakened Big 12 this season.
WINNER: West Virginia. What was largely viewed as a make-or-break year for Coach Dana Holgorsen has pretty much settled into the “make” column for good. The Mountaineers absorbed a 167-yard showing from Texas tailback D’Onta Foreman and earned a 24-20 triumph in Austin.
West Virginia is 8-1 and will play host to Oklahoma in one the two biggest games left in the Big 12 (the other is the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State Bedlam game). The Mountaineers still to get to play Iowa State and reeling Baylor, so a 10-win season is well within reach for that Skyler Howard-led bunch.
LOSER: Virginia Tech. Gift-wrapped a chance to seal the ACC’s Coastal Division, the Hokies (7-3, 5-2) instead squandered it with a 30-20 loss to Georgia Tech that was far more lopsided for much of the second half.
It isn’t a deal-breaker for Virginia Tech, which can still lock up a trip to Orlando with a victory over Virginia in its regular season finale. And given the one-sided nature of the Commonwealth Cup in recent years, there probably isn’t too much to worry about.
Still, Justin Fuente’s first Hokies team has lost to Georgia Tech and Syracuse. A division title makes for a successful season in Blacksburg this year, but even if that’s achieved, Virginia Tech will have left a couple victories on the table.
WINNER: Idaho. Here’s a team any fan could get behind. The Vandals are getting booted from the Sun Belt and have already decided to move down to the FCS rather than try to straggle along as a geographically isolated independent FBS program after next year.
Idaho enjoyed little success in its first 19 years as an FBS program, earning bowl bids in 1998 and 2009. But the Vandals got to the magic six-win plateau Saturday with a 47-14 rout of Texas State. It’s likely Paul Petrino’s team will get to the postseason after improving to 6-4 (4-2 Sun Belt).
No. 20 Southern California at No. 4 Washington (7:30, Fox): The undefeated Huskies look to remain on track for a playoff berth with a victory at home, while the Trojans will try to push their winning streak to six and stay in the Pac-12 South division chase.
No. 3 Michigan at Iowa (8, ABC): Think of this as a round-of-64 game for Michigan, which, if it keeps winning, has six games standing between it and a national title in Coach Jim Harbaugh’s second season. The Hawkeyes haven’t been as fortunate as they were last year, but they could still provide some headaches under the lights in Iowa City.